Everything you need to know about living well with Parkinson’s disease
You may be wondering, what is Parkinson’s disease? Below, we explore what causes Parkinson’s disease, where to find further help for Parkinson’s disease, and ways to live well with this condition. Remember, you are not alone, and there are many sources of support available to you.
Any medical information provided here is for informational purposes and does not replace medical advice given to you by a medical professional. If you are concerned that you may have any of the symptoms discussed below, please see your GP.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition which causes damage to occur in the brain. This begins gradually and becomes progressively worse over time. Parkinson’s disease causes symptoms such as tremor, slow movements and stiff muscles.
Parkinson’s disease is named after James Parkinson, whose work on the disease in the 19th century ensured it was recognised as a medical condition.
Parkinson’s disease is most common in older people, and symptoms are usually noticed by the age of 50, but some younger adults do live with the condition. It is slightly more common in men. Around 127,000 people in the UK have Parkinson’s disease.
There are treatments for Parkinson’s disease available, but currently there is no cure. Many people find that their Parkinson’s disease symptoms cause some level of disability, but most are able to continue to live full lives. Some people may find their condition causes greater disability. Everyone will experience the condition differently.
To find out more about Parkinson’s disease, visit the NHS website.
To understand what causes Parkinson’s disease symptoms, it is useful to understand what dopamine does. This is a chemical released by neurons, located in the substantia nigra section of the brain. Dopamine helps transmit messages between nerve cells, and is responsible for controlling body movements.
Parkinson’s disease triggers nerve cells within the substantia nigra to become damaged, resulting in less dopamine production. This causes Parkinson’s disease symptoms, such as slow movements, to develop. The process of damage to nerve cells takes many, many years, and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop slowly as a result.
Nobody knows yet why some people develop Parkinson’s disease and others don’t. Scientists believe that a combination of factors may be what triggers Parkinson’s disease, such as genetics, environmental factors (e.g. exposure to chemicals in foods) and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.
For more information on what causes Parkinson’s, visit the Parkinson’s UK website.
As you can understand from the symptoms section of this guide, Parkinson’s disease has many possible symptoms and people experience the condition differently. Most people who receive a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis have idiopathic Parkinson’s, which means there is no obvious cause or reason for the condition. This condition leads to symptoms such as tremor, rigidity and slow movements. There are, however, a lot of other ‘parkinsonisms’ which are other conditions that cause symptoms very similar to that of (idiopathic) Parkinson’s. Generally, these are not caused by damage to the substantia nigra or by reduced dopamine.
Here, we cover some of the more common parkinsonisms.
A rare condition that causes nerve cell deterioration in the brain and symptoms similar to Parkinson’s; for more information on MSA, visit the Multiple System Atrophy Trust website.
A rare condition caused by damage to brain cells, which mostly affects people aged 60 or over; for more information on this condition, visit The PSP Association website
It can be difficult to diagnose which type of Parkinson’s disease (or parkinsonism) a person has, because symptoms are often very similar in each. A specific diagnosis may come later, as the person’s condition progresses. Often, a Parkinson’s specialist may prescribe treatments for Parkinson’s and see if these have an effect – if they do not reduce symptoms, they may reconsider the diagnosis and explore other parkinsonism's.
Each individual with Parkinson’s disease will experience the condition differently, but most people report similar signs and symptoms. Parkinson’s disease symptoms often begin very mildly. By the time a person notices these and seeks diagnosis, the root causes of Parkinson’s disease, namely the damage to nerve cells in the brain, has been occurring for many years.
The most common Parkinson’s disease symptoms affect mobility or motor skills, in various parts of the body, but many people have non-motor symptoms as well. The condition is very complex and symptoms progress differently for each person. The list below indicates many symptoms and not everybody with the condition will experience all of these.
If you are concerned about any of the symptoms you read below, visit your GP in the first instance. Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other health conditions or minor illnesses, but it is advisable to have these checked by a medical expert.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
• Tremors, or shaking, which usually affects hands and which occurs when you are resting, or trying to do something with your hands. Some people with Parkinson’s do not have tremors at all, whilst some have them frequently, including internal tremors
• Bradykinesia (slow movements) e.g. coordination may become difficult, and actions such as standing up from a chair and walking short distances may take much longer
• Rigidity (stiff muscles), which may affect mobility, daily tasks such as getting dressed (if hands become stiff), and cause musculoskeletal pain and discomfort. Some people experience stiff facial muscles, which can sometimes cause difficulty with eating, drinking, speaking etc.
• Incontinence and sexual problems e.g. lack of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, etc
• Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing and eating)
• Eye problems e.g. blurred vision or blepharospasm
• Falls due to muscle weakness, or ‘freezing’ whilst moving
• Low blood pressure
• Pain, including muscle pain, muscle cramps, shooting pain from trapped nerves, dystonia (muscle contractions)
• Foot problems
• Sleep problems e.g. insomnia
• Mental health problems e.g. depression, anxiety, etc
• Speech problems e.g. slurred speech or inability to control speed or volume of your speech
• Mild concentration and memory problems e.g. finding it hard to follow conversations or becoming easily confused
For more details about various symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, what causes them, and possible treatments, see the Parkinson’s UK website.
If you or someone you know are concerned you may have symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it is important to visit your GP to discuss your concerns. Your GP will examine you and your movement. They will likely refer you to a neurologist if they suspect you have Parkinson’s and make further assessments to determine whether you should have a brain scan. They may prescribe Parkinson’s disease medication for you, to see if this helps alleviate your symptoms, and they will work with you to find the right Parkinson’s disease treatment plan.
For more detailed information about the process of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, visit the NHS website.
If you are given a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, you may feel a whole range of emotions and have concerns about how your daily life will be affected. Read on to find out more about living with Parkinson’s disease.
If you or someone you know has Parkinson’s disease, you may have lots of questions about how it will affect daily life, now and in the future. Whilst Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition, symptoms often develop slowly and may be very mild for a number of years. Living with Parkinson’s disease may present challenges and mean you need some support at times, but there are lots of treatment options and practical solutions for continuing daily tasks, which will make life easier.
Here, we provide information about various aspects of daily living including treatments for Parkinson’s disease that can help alleviate symptoms, Parkinson's disease products that may help, the importance of diet and exercise for Parkinson’s disease, and matters of finance and employment.
Having a health condition like Parkinson’s disease will likely impact a person’s life to some degree, but everybody experiences their condition differently. Many people continue to live independently with Parkinson’s disease. Some people need more support from family or friends, or professional carers to assist them. It is likely your needs will change over time.
It can be helpful to hear about how other people with the condition deal with day to day challenges. Parkinson’s UK has put together an article with tips and hints for people with Parkinson’s , which may help.
If you have a family member with Parkinson’s disease, or are providing care for someone close to you with the condition, you may find that the disease also impacts their daily life in lots of ways. Carers UK provides a range of advice and support services for people providing care to family members.
Parkinson’s disease is more common in older people, but younger people can also develop the condition. Parkinson’s UK provides a wealth of information for young onset Parkinson’s disease.
Scientists have not yet found a cure for Parkinson’s disease but there are many treatments available, including medication and therapies, to help reduce the symptoms and ensure a person lives well with the condition.
You are likely to be prescribed medication to help improve symptoms, which help the brain function better and ensure it has enough dopamine. It may take some time to find the right drug and dosage to help you. The most common types of drug treatments for Parkinson’s disease are levodopa, dopamine agonists and monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors.
Because Parkinson’s disease symptoms sometimes include difficulties with mobility, you may benefit from physiotherapy. This may help if you have difficulties walking or moving around due to stiff or sore muscles and joint pain. Physiotherapists can provide exercises to help you build strength. Speak to your GP or specialist if you feel you may benefit from physiotherapy, or visit the Charted Society of Physiotherapy website.
Some people with Parkinson’s disease report that they experience benefits from alternative therapies, such as reflexology, chiropractic and acupuncture.
Some people with Parkinson’s disease also require help with their speech, eating or swallowing, and may be referred to a speech and language therapist who can assist in this area.
If you find that your symptoms are affecting what you can do or if you feel that your condition is stopping you from doing everyday tasks, working or undertaking hobbies, you may benefit from an assessment from an occupational therapist (OT). An OT can help find ways for you to adapt your home environment or alter how you approach daily tasks. To find out how to apply for an OT assessment, visit the GOV.UK website.
There is a surgical intervention which can be used to treat Parkinson’s disease in some cases, called deep brain stimulation. Surgery is not a suitable solution for everybody, and is only usually an option if drug treatments are not helping to reduce symptoms. Surgery does not reverse the condition, or stop it, but it can help alleviate symptoms where medication cannot. For more information, see the Parkinson’s UK guide to deep brain stimulation.
For more information on Parkinson’s disease treatments, visit the NHS website.
At Healthcare Pro, we are experts in daily living aids, which are products designed to support people who are living with health conditions or disabilities. Daily living aids help you to stay as independent as possible, and provide support so you can continue with everyday tasks or stay mobile.
Here, we suggest some daily living aids for Parkinson’s disease that may help with some common challenges and tasks that some people find difficult.
PLEASE NOTE: our Expert Advice Service can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
Parkinson’s UK provides a leaflet ‘Daily Living Equipment for People with Parkinson’s’ which you may also find helpful.
It is important for a person with Parkinson’s disease to remain as active as possible, to keep themselves healthy. Exercise helps the muscles and joints to stay strong and function as they should. A physiotherapist may be able to recommend a suitable programme of exercise for Parkinson’s disease that takes into account physical abilities and symptoms.
It is important for everybody to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Some people with Parkinson’s may find they have difficulties eating due to poor coordination or physically being unable to grip cutlery, cups etc. Parkinson’s disease eating difficulties may be caused by rigidity or tremors and include eating slowly, problems with chewing motion and keeping food in the mouth, or finding it hard to swallow. If you are having difficulties such as these, a dietician or speech and language therapist may be able to help you. There are also many Parkinson’s disease aids that might assist you.
Parkinson’s UK provides a leaflet called ‘Diet and Parkinson’s’ which provides lots of advice about healthy eating for Parkinson’s disease.
Some people choose to take supplements for Parkinson’s disease, such as calcium, vitamin D, antioxidants and co-enzymes. There is no conclusive evidence that taking Parkinson’s disease supplements reduces symptoms. Speak to your GP or specialist if you are interested in taking supplements.
Many people with a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis are able to work and do work, in a variety of occupations. Some people are unable to continue in the same job, or prefer to work less due to their symptoms. You will find the right solution for you. To find out more about financial support if you feel you are unable to work, visit the Money Advice Service website.
We hope this guide to Parkinson’s disease has been helpful to you, whether you have the condition yourself or know someone who has it. You should always contact your GP if you are concerned about any aspects of your health, or that of your family. Parkinson’s disease treatments can help you live well with the condition. There are many advice and information services available to find out more about living with the condition.
You may find it useful to talk to other people affected by Parkinson’s disease, to find out what they experience and how they deal with life’s challenges. Here, we point you to Parkinson’s disease support services and other online resources that offer further information and advice.
Brain and Spine Foundation – a UK charity for people affected by neurological problems, which provides information and expert nurse-led advice helplines
NHS – the essential guide to medical conditions, their diagnosis and symptoms
Parkinson’s UK – the leading UK charity that researches cures and treatments, whilst providing information on all aspects of living with Parkinson’s
The Cure Parkinson’s Trust – a charitable organisation dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s, with lots of information about research projects and findings
The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – an American site created by the famous actor who has the disease, created to fund research and support patients
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of Parkinson’s disease as straightforward as possible.
- found naturally within the body and in foods, these substances counteract the damaging effects of oxidants in the body (which come from toxins, chemicals, pollution)
- a condition where the eyelids close involuntarily
- a symptom of nervous system disorders that causes movements to be slow and the body difficult to adjust into position
- found naturally in the body and available as a supplement, co-enzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radicals
- difficulties with thought process, decision making, concentration, memory
Deep brain stimulation
- a surgical procedure to treat Parkinson’s, which involves implanting a ‘brain pacemaker’ type device into the head to change electrical signals in the brain and ultimately attempt to reduce symptoms
- a chemical released by nerve cells (neurons) which helps control movement and emotion
- a drug that stimulates nerve cells in the brain
- contracted muscles and spasms, which cause jerky, repetitive or twisted movements
- occurs without reason or where the cause is not known
- sleep disorder that causes a person to be unable to fall asleep or stay asleep
- a symptom that causes a feeling of tremor inside the body, which might not be visible to others
- a drug that changes to dopamine in the body and encourages more dopamine to be produced by nerve cells
Monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors
- drugs that block MAO-B, which is an enzyme in the body that breaks down dopamine, in order to reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s
- actions we do with our bodies that involve using muscles e.g. running, walking, jumping, etc
- the bones and muscles in the body
- a specialist doctor who is an expert in treating conditions of the brain, nervous system, spinal cord
- nerve cells that form the basis of the body’s nervous system, which transmit messages or information through the body to the brain and vice versa
- an illness where symptoms become worse over time
- part of the brain that produces dopamine, located in the midbrain area in the basal ganglia
- caused by a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s, tremors are involuntary and repetitive movements of the body, which may feel and appear as a shaking or juddering action